Un Glosario de Términos y Figuras Literarios

This is a brief glossary of literary terms, from Spanish to English. You may scroll through the list or use the letters to the left to get to where you want to go.


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Adonis — a handsome young man loved by Venus; killed by a wild boar

aliteración — alliteration: the repetition of the same sound in succeeding words

alusión — allusion: a specific reference to famous works or people

ambiente — the environment or setting of work

Amazonas — mythical women warriors

anacoluto — anacoluthon: a lack of agreement or of concordance among grammatical elements

anadiplosis — anadiplosis: a repetition of the last word of one clause at the beginning of the next

anáfora — anaphora: a repetition of words for affective reasons

anfibología — amphibology: an unintentional ambiguity resulting from grammatical misuse

antífrasis — antiphrasis: an ironical designation, such as giving something a name contrary to its basic qualities

antónimo — antonym: the contrast of opposites, especially in contiguous contexts

antonomasia — antinomasia: the use of a proper name to express quality (“He was a Hercules.”)

aparte — aside

Apolo — Greek god of the intellect, arts, healing and light; Olympian deity of the sun

apóstrofe — apostrophe: interruption of a discourse to address the reader or audience directly

asíndeton — asyndeton: the omission of conjunctions

asunto — the subject matter of any writing

Atropos — one of the Fates who spin and cut the thread of a person’s life

Baco — Roman god of wine and drink

batología — battology: an unmotivated repetition of words, generally annoying

cacofonía — cacophony: the repetition of disagreeable sounds or dissonant quality of writing

cadencia — cadence: the measure or rhythm of a literary passage

catambur — a type of pun in which syllables of adjacent words may be run together into one word to make a different meaning (“a su

lado” becomes “azulado”)

carácter — one’s personality, makeup, intrinsic qualities

caracterización — characterization: development of fictional characters

caricatura — caricature: exaggerated and distorted characterization of a human being

castizo — adjective used to denote a word, expression, or custom, purely Spanish or Castilian in origin or acceptance; hence a figurative term meaning “purely and typically Spanish”

Cibeles — mother of the Olympian gods

cliché (clisé) — cliché: a hackneyed expression

clímax — climax: sometimes used in Spanish — moment of highest tension in a literary work; better to use “punto culminante”

Cloto — one of the Fates who spin and cut the thread of a person’s life

coloquial — colloquial: an expression in a language that is in common conversational use

comillas — quotation marks

conotación — connotation: meaning or meanings suggested by a term beyond its basic dictionary meaning; any affective significance attributed to it

contexto — context: the immediate environment of any literary element

continuidad — continuity: the progressive development of par or all of any work

contrapunto — counterpoint: simultaneous or intermittent incidence of complementary references, frequently symbolic

convergencia — convergence: the practice of using several stylistic devices that concur in expressing the same idea or in producing

the same literary effect

corchetes — brackets

cubismo — in literature — sectioning the supposed reality of narrated events into variegated shapes and perspectives

cuento — short story

denotación — denotation: the specific dictionary meaning of any expression; its primary or most objective sense

desenlace — denouement: the outcome of a literary work

despersonificación — depersonalization: the taking away of human qualities

dialectalismo — dialecticism: expression whose principal usage is confined to one geographic area and not generally used throughout the language

diálogo — dialogue: written conversation

Diana — Roman virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt

dicho — saying, slogan

dilogía — ambiguity: giving any word a double meaning (also “equívoco” or “anfibología”)

disparate — outlandish thing said or done, wild statement or excessive exaggeration

divagación — digression: wandering from the main point

Eco — nymph who helped Zeus in amorous adventures and who was condemned by Hera to a loss of speech except for the ability to repeat the last words of everything she heard others say — ultimately she was nothing more than this repetitive voice

editar — to publish

el de Delo/el señor de Delo — reference to Apollo who had a shrine on the island of Delos

el señor de Delfos — reference to Apollo whose greatest shrine was at Delphi

elipsis — ellipsis: suppression or omission of syntactical elements

enajenamiento — distancing of an author from the text, characters, events in a literary work

enálage — substitution of one part of speech for another (e.g., adjective for adverb)

enfoque — focus

Eolo — mythological keeper of the winds

Eos — Greek goddess of the dawn

epílogo — epilogue: an after-word of any work

epístola — epistle: letter, piece of fiction in which correspondence forms the body of the work

equívoco — see “dilogía”

erotema — interrogation

erotesis — rhetorical question asked and answered by the speaker

escenario — setting in drama, scenery

esdrújulo — a term used to describe a word whose accent falls on the third to last syllable

esquemático — schematic: skeletal arrangement or minimal framework of fictional elements

estampa — impression

estilo — style: technical and affective qualities of literature

etimología — etymology: study of word origins and derivatives

eufemismo — euphemism: substitution of a mild term of a harsh one

exabrupto — a brusque change of tone

expresionismo — expressionism: literary movement characterized by the transposition of reality according to one’s own sensibilities

Febo — Apollo in his role as god of light

Fénix — mythological bird of Egyptian origin, said to rise to new life from the ashes of its own funeral pyre

figura de construcción — affective alteration of grammatical construction

figura retórica — figure of speech

Flora — Roman goddess of flowers

fonética — phonetics: study of language sounds

Fortuna — Roman goddess of good luck, often represented beside a wheel in motion

frase — sentence or phrase or part of a sentence

frase hecha — stock phrase, proverb, cliché

gerundio — present participle

grafema — grapheme: basic unit of written language, a letter that corresponds to a basic phonological or structural category

Harpías — monsters in Greek mythology who have the head of a woman and the body, wings, and talons of a bird

Helios — god of the sun in its daily course across the sky; Apollo represents the sun’s brightness, light and healing power

Hercules — Roman name for Heracles, Greek hero

hipérbaton — hyperbaton: alteration of the susal syntactical order

hipérbole — hyperbole: exaggeration for the purpose of heightening effect

Hipogrifo — mythological winged horse with head, wings, and claws of a griffin and the body, hooves, and tail of a horse

Ícaro — flew too close to the sun using wings constructed from feathers and wax

imagen — image

imagenería — imagery (neologism from English); better to use tropología

inmediación — immediacy: fictional quality of apparent presence and participation in a narrated event or described locale

in medias res — in the midst of the thing: a passage that immediately plunges the reader into a situation already going on

interjección — interjection: any expression interspersed singly in discourse, such as an outcry

intromisión — intrusion of a literary element, such as authorial presence or perspective, in a work

inverosimilitud — lack of believability in any narration or description

inversión — inversion: an alteration in the normal syntactic elements

Iris — Greek goddess of the rainbow

ironía — irony: giving the appearance of saying one thing while implying another

Jove — another name for Jupiter

juego de palabras — pun

Júpiter — supreme deity of roman mythology, symbolized by the thunderbolt he hurls

Lachesis — one of the Fates who spin and cut the thread of a person’s life

lapsus cálami — slip of the pen: writing error

lengua — abstract language

lenguaje — idiolect, jargon, stylistic language

letra — orthographic letter, song lyric, handwriting

léxico — dictionary

lítote — litotes: expression of an idea by denying the opposite effect; understatement

locución — expression, phrase, group of words

llano — term used to describe a word whose accent falls on the next to last syllable

marco — frame

Marte — Roman deity of war

matiz — nuance

mayúscula — capital letter

metáfora — metaphor: comparison without a connective

metátesis — metathesis: altering the order of letter in a word (e.g., “naide” for “nadie)

metonimia — metonymy: designation of something exclusively by reference to one of its parts; confusion of cause for effect

miníscula — lowercase letter

modismo — idiom

monólogo — monologue: discourse by one person

muletilla — tag: idiosyncratic mannerism given to a  fictional character

Narciso — handsome youth who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool

narración — narration: presentation of events, action, setting, etc.

neologismo: neologism: newly coined word

nominal — nounal: having to do with nouns

novela — novel

novelesco — pertaining to the novel

objetividad — objectivity: quality of narrative technique in which the narrator or author appears to be completely separated from the narrative

onírico — pertaining to dreams or dream sequences

onomatopeya — onomatopoeia: term used to describe any word or expression whose sound suggests its meaning

oración — a complete sentence

ortografía — spelling

oximoron — oxymoron: combination of two antithetical and incongruous elements

palabra — word: figuratively the use of language

Palas — Greek goddess of wisdom and the arts (among other things)

parábola — parable: short, symbolic narration that serves to illustrate a moral value

paradoja — paradox: an assertion or fact that appears to be contradictory yet is true

Parca — one of the Fates said to control the lives and deaths of humans

Parnaso — twin-peaked mountain near Delphi, generally understood to be sacred to the Muses

paréntesis — parenthesis

paronomasia — paronomasia: phonetic similarity of different words

pasaje — passage, section of a work

personaje — fictional character

personificación — personification: attribution of animate qualities to something inanimate

perspectiva — perspective: point of view

picaresco — picaresque: roguish

pleonasmo — pleonasm: emphatic employment of more words than necessary to express an idea

Polifemo — one-eyed Cyclops

polisíndeton — polysyndeton: repetition of conjunctions

prosaico — prosaic: mundane, ordinary or referring to prose

prosódico — intonation of a patter of an utterance

prosopopeya — prosopopoeia: personification

puntos suspensivos — ...

raya — dash

realismo— realism: anything incorporating matter-of-fact believability or 19th century literary movement that detailed the observable and avoided fanciful or subjective writing

recurso — recourse: technique, device

refrán — saying or adage

renglón — any single line of writing

sátira — satire: written exposure of censurable activity often accomplished with sustained irony

silepsis — syllepsis: breaking grammatical concordance due to conceptual meaning (“la gente se fueron”)

simbolismo — symbolism: use of a literary work of an item, element, concept to represent something more than just itself

símil — simile: comparison of elements by means of connectives

sinécdoque — synecdoche: a trope in which the part is used to represent the whole and vice versa (“the city sleeps”)

sinestesia — synesthesia: confusion of the perception of the five sense (“a dark odor”)

sinonimia — synonymy: use of a series of synonymous expressions

sinónimo — synonym

sintaxis — syntax: study or prose word order, clausal relationships and sentence structures

Sirenas — figures in Greek mythology frequently represented as composite creatures with women’s heads and bird-like bodies.  Their song was so enticing that ll who heard it were lured to destruction on the rocks around the island they inhabited

solecismo — solecism: syntactic errors such as misuses of prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions

subjetivismo — author’s expression of own feelings and opinions about his/her own writing, characters

sui generis — of its own kind

sustantivo — substantive or noun

tema — theme:  underlying meaning and import of a work

término — term, work, phrase

tono — tone: style or manner of expression put forth in a piece of literature

tragedia — tragedy

trama — plot

tropo — trope: imaginative modification of the proper sense of a term to convey a figurative sense (like figure of speech but a trope is often thought of solely in reference to one word’s figurative use)

Venus — Roman goddess of beauty (like the Greek goddess Afrodite) but also the goddess of love

verbigracia — that is, for example

verosimilitud — verisimilitude: believability, having the appearance of truth

Vulcano — Roman god of fire and the blacksmith of the gods

Zeus — supreme deity in Greek mythology

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